The Overcomplication of Health
By Brandon Cowley
I have been in the personal training field for 10 years now, with many of those years also providing nutrition and lifestyle management advice to my clients. I lost count of how many times I have been asked questions like, “What’s the one exercise I should be doing in the gym?” or “If I had to choose ONE food to eat for the week before vacation, what would you recommend?” and my favorite, “have you heard of this diet? Should I do it?” After several years of giving out innumerable answers to these inquiries, my responses have become more global. Respectively, they are now, “The ones that you will do consistently”, “Bad idea, don’t do it”, and “What made you decide this diet might be right for you?”
The problem with these questions is that they are short-term solutions; patches to a larger issue. Do people find success with drastic overhauls and extreme approaches? Sure, but you can bet they end up reverting to their original state of health/fitness, or even dipping below their starting point. So what do people do? They turn to the Internet, in search of some divine truth or magical recipe that gives them all that they ever dreamed of, with minimal effort. And that’s where things get really hairy.
If you were to observe the trends in fitness over the last 7-8 years, you would have no choice but to see that the health and fitness industry have gotten very elitist. Everything is an ‘extreme’ version of its predecessor, industry professionals sling supplements and sponsored products left and right, and there seems to be a pervasive push towards messages saying, “This is the only right way to do things, everyone else is selling you MTC – er, snake oil.” All of these messages create an environment that can make someone feel inadequate or embarrassed simply for wanting to improve themselves! Luckily, you don’t need to have ripped abs to belong in a gym, and you don’t need to weigh out every meal you eat with a digital scale. A quote from Zig Ziglar gives a nice perspective: “You don’t have to be great to start, but you have to start to be great.” And I think that people should take that into consideration when looking to start a new routine, or improve upon their health.
Change does not need to be overnight, dramatic, hyperbolic, or extreme. In fact, these approaches are often the ones that lead to premature failure and negative self-impressions. Instead, find small ways to create change every day, that you have a higher chance of accomplishing. People often dream of crossing the finish line without remembering that there are many steps to take before completing the race! A good approach to adopting any new habit is to set tasks that you can complete, and see progress over time.
When I work with a client who is looking to change their eating habits, we don’t wipe the board and give them a competition diet. Instead, we assess their baseline behaviors and see where we need to make the most change. From there, I may say something like, “Okay Sarah, you aren’t eating vegetables at this point, and we want to change that. I’d like to see you adding in two vegetables every day to start. Do you feel like there is a 9 out of 10 certainty you can do this?” If the answer is anything but an immediate yes, we scale that down to one vegetable per day, or maybe 4 per week, until we reach a point where she can say yes. At this point of course, we roll out the plan and check in after a week. As long as she was able to accomplish this first step, we can start to add on it – but not until that first step has been completed. Rewarding yourself for making change can happen at any point of the process. It doesn’t need to be a big ordeal, but it IS amazingly important to acknowledge that change is a process, not just an end result. So don’t buy the detox tea and $300 workout pants just yet. Let’s start by making sure the pizza delivery driver doesn’t remember your favorite order and birthday.